Thursday, August 23, 2012

10 for 10

Not too long ago, when a certain book came to mind, I found myself thinking, “if I had to make a list of the top ten books I’ve read in the past ten years, that one would be on it”. That led me to think about what the other nine books on that list would be. It may seem like somewhat arbitrary time frame, 2002-2012, but it’s interesting to think about recent favorites without muddying the waters by trying to compare them with all-time favorite classics. So here, in no particular order, is my list of ten from the past ten.

(I should say that I’m not necessarily saying these are the ten best books, or most well written, or even very representative of all of my favorite authors, but rather that these are ten books that have really stuck with me, for one reason or another. And I should also say that for the purpose of this list, I’m further limiting myself to books that were written within the past ten year. Got it?)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows- This novel calls to mind adjectives like charming and delightful, which is no small feat given the fact that it's also a novel that delves into the hardships of WWII faced by residents of Guernsey, one of the English Channel Islands. Written in an epistolary format, it's witty, informative, and just an all around feel-good book.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics- by Marisha Pessl- An un-put-down-able story that carries on the tradition of the boarding school novel, with some unsettling twists.

The Unnamed - by Joshua Ferris- A outlandish premise that manages to be both funny and moving, highlighting the humanity of a cast of distinctly modern characters.

Never Let Me Go - by Kazuo Ishiguro- Beautifully written with a lot of unexpected moments that seem extra special given the fact that the story's trajectory seems easy to predict.

Bel Canto - by Ann Patchett- Although I love all of Patchett's work, the story and situation in this novel stand out in my mind as especially vivid.

Let the Right One In - by John Ajvide Lindqvist- If I had to do a critical analysis of these books, this one might not rank among the best, but it would certainly be one of the most memorable. The setting and overall atmosphere of the book is so haunting and distinctive that it's really stuck with me in the years since I've read it. The same goes for the Swedish film adaptation.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - by Muriel Barbery- This is one of those books that inspires widely mixed reactions. It seems like people either love it or hate it. I'm in the former camp. The story isn't quite as lighthearted and whimsical as the title and cover suggest, but it's full of philosophical charm.

Let the Great World Spin - by Colum McCann- My first introduction to McCann's work that immediately turned me into a fan of his. Combines beautiful writing with an engrossing plot made up of several storylines that are skillfully woven together.

The Lacuna- by Barbara Kingsolver- This might just be my favorite of all of Kingsolver's works. With fascinating, historical fiction portrayals of figures like Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the novel itself hinges upon the idea of a lacuna-- a gap, a missing piece, an unknowable part of a story.

The Brief History of the Dead - by Kevin Brockmeier- The premise of this novel is so unique and thought-provoking that I've found myself thinking about it time and again since reading it.

What would be on your list of top ten list from recent years?


  1. What a great list! I'm going to have to think of my top ten too. I have a feeling our lists would have a lot of overlap.

  2. Oh wow I'd really have to sit down and have a good think about this. I would include Guernsey, for sure, and Fingersmith and Peony in Love.
    I can't believe I've never read a novel by either Barbara Kingsolver or Ann Patchett - I must remedy that.

  3. I loved Guernsey, too, but I'd have to add Cutting for Stone, The Buddha in the Attic and perhaps Loving Frank. I'm having trouble remembering what I read last year. Ten years ago? Gosh, I'd have to back and do some research. Which might be fun.

  4. Getting a bit obsessed with this. Have to add Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress as well as Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Nemirovsky's story is just as compelling as her book, which chronicles the earliest days of the German invasion of France during WWII. She wrote the novel in real time and somehow stashed the manuscript before being arrested and transferred to a concentration camp. She died shortly thereafter--in '42 I believe. Her daughter found her mother's work in the 1990s and the book was finally published in 2004. Can't believe I missed that in my previous comment, especially since I still think about the book and this woman from time to time. Nemirovsky wrote about the Germans invading France while they're walking down her village streets! I find that astonishing. And then she has the wherewithal to hide everything before her arrest? The only word to describe my awe and my outrage and my sorrow is.....gobsmacked. I'm gobsmacked about the story behind the story.

    1. I loved Suite Francaise, too, and thought about putting it on my list until I decided to limit myself to things written in the past 10 years to make things less complicated. Have you read anything else by Nemirovsky? I thought Fire in the Blood was also very good.

    2. I read Fire in the Blood a long time ago and liked it. More recently I read All Our Worldly Goods, which didn't quite hit the mark for me. One of the things I enjoy about Nemirovsky's writing is her habit of having characters unrelated to each other cross paths. That occured near the end of Wordly Goods, but their intersection wasn't enough to make me swoon over this novel. I believe Suite Francaise is her high water mark. Just think what else she could have produced in her lifetime.



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